Exercise: Reflective commentary (Bazin and Sekula)

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Write a 250 word commentary on the quotes by Andre Bazin and Allan Sekula. Briefly compare their respective positions and record your own view on the issue of photographic objectivity.

Bazin writes about the photograph depicting reality, and how the only intervention by the photographer is the selection of what is being photographed, without creative intervention – can be argued etc- we need to accept image as being real. However, framing can change an image somewhat and as we only ever see what is within the frame, it can hide some crucial information. Perspective can be a factor. I personally saw some photos of a Thai island I wanted to visit and got really excited about the white sandy beach. Imagine my disappointment when I went and found that the only beach on that particular island was tiny! the photographer had taken it near the ground with a wide angle lens. I was able to take a similar photo and it made me more aware of how we can alter reality.

Sekula mentions that the way we see an image is influenced by our cultural background, meaning there is no intrinsic or universal meaning. This rings true from my time in China – we were set an assignment to go and photograph something the Chinese students would probably not think was interesting, and they had to take a photo Europeans would not think interesting. The whole exercise sparked a lot of debate. My image was also influenced by my background being bought up as a vegetarian, and so I saw another cultural aspect. The photo was of a pigs head in a market. The Chinese students deemed it too normal a sight to photograph. I would argue too that someone who ate meat may not have taken the photo as they may prefer not to see the head of the animal they are about to eat. There are other cultural implications here, as I live in Malaysia, a Muslim country where even mentioning pigs can spark a reaction let alone showing a photo of the head of one. Being exposed to a lot of certain types of images may also mean we react less to that type of image. In some countries, images of dead bodies are commonly shown in the news, but on other countries a different perspective is shown and so people may react more if they see a dead body or body parts, something discussed after the Madrid train bombing where some British newspapers altered images to take out or blur body parts.

Our culture and background can influence how we interpret images, and maybe this will also influence how we show ‘reality’ as described by Bazin. Gender may also affect how we interpret images, as well as age.

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